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How to sleep well on the trail

You’re trying to sleep, but there’s a baseball-size rock poking you in the back. You keep sliding downhill in your sleeping bag. Just as you drift off to sleep, you’re jolted awake by the sound of your Scoutmaster snoring like a gorilla with a head cold.

While we can’t help you with your snoring Scoutmaster, Gear Guy is here to save you with some handy sleep tips and gear that will help you get a better night’s rest on the trail.


EAT. Don’t go to bed hungry if you can help it. Your body generates more heat when it has calories to burn, so you stay warmer and sleep better.

GET LEVEL. Pick a spot that’s as flat and level as possible so you’re not sliding downhill all night. Flat ground can be tough to find, so if sleeping on a slight incline is unavoidable, always have your head on the uphill part so all the blood doesn’t rush to your noggin.

CLEAR THE WAY. Before you go to bed, do a quick sweep of the spot you’ll be sleeping on to remove sticks, stones and other things. But leave the pine needles and leaves right where they are. They’ll give you a little extra padding, and leaving them will make less of an impact on the environment.

LOOK ABOVE. Check for dead trees, limbs, pine cones and other stuff that could fall on you in the night. Avoid those spots.

DO A STAKEOUT. Take the extra time to stake out the body of your tent and the guy lines on your rainfly. That way, if the wind whips up, you won’t be kept awake by the annoying flapping of the fly. Also, this will improve airflow and ventilation within your tent and will help you avoid your tent wetting through with morning dew and condensation.

KEEP IT ROLLED UP. If you’re going to sleep out under the stars (good for you! It’s one of Gear Guy’s favorite things to do), keep your sleeping bag rolled up in its stuffsack until it’s time to hit the hay. That way you’ll prevent your bag from getting wet from dew or humidity, and it’ll give the creepy crawlies less opportunity to get inside before you do.

BRING PJs. I’m not saying you ought to pack those Spider-Man pajamas, unless that’s how you roll. Just make sure you always have clean clothes to wear to bed. Maybe it’s simply a T-shirt and boxers, but having something that doesn’t smell like campfire, dinner or your own B.O. will help you sleep better. Bonus: It’ll keep your sleeping bag cleaner, too.

Cold-weather tip: Whatever clothes you’re planning to wear in the morning, toss those in the bottom of your sleeping bag. They’ll keep your feet warmer, and the clothes will be cozy and warm when you get dressed in the morning. Sure they’ll be wrinkled, but get over it. You’re camping!

SLEEP IN YOUR CLOTHES. If it’s particularly cold, wear layers to bed. Long underwear (tops and bottoms), warm (clean) socks and a fleece jacket are a good start for frigid nights.

D-I-Y PILLOW. Don’t bring that huge, bulky pillow from your bed at home. Instead, make a do-it-yourself pillow. Use a stuffsack (or a fleece jacket) and fill it with your other clothing layers to make a soft mini pillow.

WEAR A HAT. We lose most of our body heat through our heads, so keep a stocking cap or balaclava close at hand. Then if you get chilly in the night, you can just slip it on and warm up.

Keep a headlamp or flashlight at your side when you sleep; doing so is key to being able to find your way in the middle of the night—whether it’s an emergency or you’re just heading out to relieve yourself. Bonus: If it’s cold, keeping your headlamp inside your sleeping bag prevents the batteries from getting cold and losing their power.

PEE IN A BOTTLE. Maybe you’re camping somewhere cold or where getting out of your sleeping bag to relieve yourself could be uncomfortable or dangerous. If so, stash an empty quart-size plastic bottle in your tent. The wide-mouth ones, like a Gatorade bottle, are best. When nature calls, simply kneel in your sleeping bag, position the bottle just so, and VERY CAREFULLY pee into it. When you’re finished, screw the top on tightly and set it outside the tent door.

14 Comments on How to sleep well on the trail

  1. Peeing in a bottle is kinda gross!

  2. id pee in a bottle anytime

  3. pokemaster123 // April 27, 2010 at 8:31 pm // Reply

    thanks this will really help me when i go on outings thx


  4. Archeopteryx // April 26, 2010 at 3:22 pm // Reply

    Sometimes the only thing you can do is camp, camp and camp more. I’ve camped since I was 7 years old and by now, the procedure is this: get in bed, take unnecessary layers off such as sweaters to roll up and put under your head to stuff your feet into, put the hat on, do an activity that makes you comfortable (reading, writing, drawing, praying…)and do it ’til you feel tired, then I sleep until 8 in the morning.

  5. Rockstar53 // April 25, 2010 at 3:05 pm // Reply

    thx for the tips! It helped alot XD

  6. Hillside Camper 503 // April 24, 2010 at 10:38 am // Reply

    If you can’t find a completely level area to put your tent to have as a sleeping area, then sleep with your feet downhill from your head on a 1/2 percent slope grade to avoid developing a headache after sleeping on a hillside slope for about eight hours. Don’t sleep sideways, as many people will end up rolling down the hillside during the night as they turn during their sleep. Only sleep with your head downhill from your feet as a first aid technique for the elevation of the feet above the head.

  7. I went camping in -10 degree (Faranheit), and I didn’t have a hat, I got cold really quick. I ended up borrowing one for the night: it really helped

  8. I think these tips are very helpful. A couple of years back on my school’s camping trip our group didn’t brush away rocks and twigs. We got poked and scratched all night long. I used these tips on one of my scout outings where there were only hills. Having your noggin at the top of the hill really helps.

  9. Cleaning up the area before you pitch your tent really does help. There are so many times I lie down to go to sleep and I feel a rock in my back, which turns the whole sleeping experiance into a nightmare!

  10. This was very helpful. I’m going to philmont in about a month and will probably experience all of these situtions. Since I’ll be out on the trail for 2 weeks, getting a good night’s rest will be greatly neeeded.

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